Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) in educational and other settings have steadily increased over the last fifty years and a steep rise in AAI has been observed in many countries and settings in recent years. Surprisingly, while different providers and organisations provide a range of guidelines, no unified, standardised guidelines or risk assessment tools for AAI exist. This means that in practice AAI takes place in an unregulated manner and without a gold standard of best practice. In addition, knowledge of which interventions are effective is still scarce and the mechanisms of successful interventions are not yet fully understood. This is partly due to AAI being a relatively new research field and standards of research and practice have often lacked rigour in the past. Furthermore, knowledge and experience of providers undertaking interventions varies greatly as there is no standardised training either. We address the striking lack of standardised guidelines and procedures. In all AAI, high importance should be placed on safety and welfare of all involved. Children and other AAI participants, staff and animals should be given equal consideration when assessing risks and welfare needs. To ensure safe AAI worldwide, we provide urgently needed guidelines on best practice in relation to risk assessment, safeguarding and animal welfare priorities. The guidelines were developed for a large-scale longitudinal, randomised controlled trial AAI project and are relevant to AAIs within educational and other settings. We also provide the first set of comprehensive risk assessment and animal welfare tools to achieve consistent welfare and safety standards for best practice across educational and other settings around the world.
Keywords: animal-assisted interventions; best practice recommendations; dog-assisted interventions; risk; risk assessment; risk assessment tool; safety standards.